The Vertigo title New Romancer might be billed as a romantic comedy, but with writer Peter Milligan involved, it's not surprising he's calling it "a lot weirder than your average rom-com."
Working with rising-star artist Brett Parson (Tank Girl), Milligan has crafted a story around an internet-dating app called New Romancer and one of the company's coders, Lexy. To create fake profiles, she uses the most famous lovers in history, pulling from little-known writings by Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer (and coincidentally, the daughter of famed lover Lord Byron).
Things get "weird" when Lexy pushes the boundaries of coding and accidentally unleashes Byron — one of several historical and new characters who Lexy encounters on her paranormal adventure through digital dating.
Newsarama talked with Milligan to find out more about his inspiration for New Romancer and what readers can expect from his portrayal of Lord Byron and other romantic heroes from the past when the series debuts in December.
Newsarama: Peter, what a unique way to bring a historical figure to life: computer coding! Where did you get that idea, and why did you think it made sense in this day and age?
Milligan: I really wanted to use Lord Byron, and at the same time I was reading and hearing a lot about internet dating sites, and the coding that went behind that. Throw into this heady mix the fact that Byron's daughter was Ada Lovelace, who some regard as if not the first than certainly one of the first computer programmers and the comic started to come together, and the mix of coding and Byron's rebirth seemed a natural step.
Nrama: Tell us abut Lexy. What's she like, and how does her performance of her job end up kicking off this story?
Milligan: She's brilliant but just a little unusual. She became obsessed by Lord Byron from an early age and wrote programs so she could have "conversations" with her dream lover.
Nrama: Are you a fan of Lord Byron, or did he just seem to fit the story best?
Milligan: I've always been intrigued by Byron. Some of his work might seem pompous and over-blown — just like himself occasionally — but there are times when he's a beautiful lyric poet. A really interesting mixture between the sublime and the ridiculous.
I was always intrigued by a quote I read from a critic that Byron never wrote a line of poetry without the awareness of his deformed foot. This conflict — on one hand incredibly famous and handsome, lusted after by half of Europe, yet simultaneously conscious of his club foot, makes him a complex and fascinating character.
He's perfect for this story because on the one hand he is certainly a man out of time, yet there's also something quite modern about Byron. He was possibly the world's first celebrity. And this is an age that knows all about celebrity.
Nrama: But it must be wild to try to get inside the head of someone real from history. How do you write him?
Milligan: I write him with pleasure, trying to put myself in his uneven shoes, but aware that there's a danger of going too camp, which I've avoided. Byron was, in a sense, a self-creation. What I've tried to do is create him all over again.
Nrama: What other characters will we meet? Any others from history?
Milligan: Oh, it's a crowded stage! An important character is Lexy's father, Ryan. A tough and brilliant man. We also meet some of Lexy's co-workers at the struggling Silicon Valley start-up, New Romancer. From history we very quickly meet that other great lover from history, Casanova. Later, there'll be yet another star appearance from yesteryear.
Nrama: The Vertigo folks are calling this a rom-com. Is that how you'd describe it?
Milligan: It has rom-com qualities, yeah. Aspects of it are unashamedly romantic and I think it's funny, in an off-beat kind of way. Safe to say this is a lot weirder than your average rom-com.
Nrama: Is it a challenge for you as a writer to put together something in this genre that works well?
Milligan: I've just tried to create these characters — fictional and historical — and put them together in this slightly bizarre version of our word, and then let them go and play.
Nrama: So it wasn't so much about writing a rom-com-type story? But simply about the right feel for this story and these characters?
Milligan: Absolutely. I didn't set out to write a "rom-com" — as I worked through Lexy's character and combined that with Byron it just seemed grow. The rom was there from the start. The com came a bit later.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Brett Parson? What does he bring to the book?
Milligan: Bloody brilliant. As in, he's bloody brilliant. And so right for this book. Brett is so great at capturing the humor or pathos in an expression. I've worked with some great artists but I really believe he's going to be way up there with them.
Nrama: What other adventures will we see in this book? Anything you can tease?
Milligan: In this first outing, we establish the world of New Romancer and see the terrible and potentially disastrous ramifications of Lexy's dabbling with the weird science that she hopes will bring her closer to the love of her life, Lord Byron.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell potential readers about New Romancer?
Milligan: It's probably unlike anything you've ever read. And you don't need to like poetry to like it.